Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Teaching Outline, Part 1

I was looking at a passage from Shoghi Effendi with a friend yesterday, and they asked a wonderful question. They asked, "And what does that mean?" In other words, how does it apply in our life?

You see, I am of the belief that everything in the Writings can be acted upon. I believe that every word and every phrase can have a direct application to our daily life, if we only try and look for it.

Admittedly, some are easier to see than others, such as washing your feet every day in the summer. I can do that. That's not too difficult to act upon. In fact, it even feels good, squishing the cool water through your toes on a hot summer day. But I digress.

There are other passages that seem easy, until you try and figure it out in detail. One example would be "Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart..." I mean, really, how do you actually do that? (And obviously you don't go out and buy a nice heart in the butcher's shop, clean it up and plug it into the wall.) For that, you really need to look at more of the Writings to figure it out.

But the one we were looking at yesterday is from The Advent of Divine Justice. And it seems like it should be straightforward, but there are many questions that arise as we begin to act upon it.

It's a fairly lengthy passage, but seems to cover most of the basics about helping someone move from never having heard about the Faith to becoming an avowed supporter of the Cause.

So, in its entirety, here is the paragraph from pages 42 - 44 (I said it was long).

"Having on his own initiative, and undaunted by any hindrances with which either friend or foe may, unwittingly or deliberately, obstruct his path, resolved to arise and respond to the call of teaching, let him carefully consider every avenue of approach which he might utilize in his personal attempts to capture the attention, maintain the interest, and deepen the faith, of those whom he seeks to bring into the fold of his Faith. Let him survey the possibilities which the particular circumstances in which he lives offer him, evaluate their advantages, and proceed intelligently and systematically to utilize them for the achievement of the object he has in mind. Let him also attempt to devise such methods as association with clubs, exhibitions, and societies, lectures on subjects akin to the teachings and ideals of his Cause such as temperance, morality, social welfare, religious and racial tolerance, economic cooperation, Islam, and Comparative Religion, or participation in social, cultural, humanitarian, charitable, and educational organizations and enterprises which, while safeguarding the integrity of his Faith, will open up to him a multitude of ways and means whereby he can enlist successively the sympathy, the support, and ultimately the allegiance of those with whom he comes in contact. Let him, while such contacts are being made, bear in mind the claims which his Faith is constantly making upon him to preserve its dignity, and station, to safeguard the integrity of its laws and principles, to demonstrate its comprehensiveness and universality, and to defend fearlessly its manifold and vital interests. Let him consider the degree of his hearer's receptivity, and decide for himself the suitability of either the direct or indirect method of teaching, whereby he can impress upon the seeker the vital importance of the Divine Message, and persuade him to throw in his lot with those who have already embraced it. Let him remember the example set by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and His constant admonition to shower such kindness upon the seeker, and exemplify to such a degree the spirit of the teachings he hopes to instill into him, that the recipient will be spontaneously impelled to identify himself with the Cause embodying such teachings. Let him refrain, at the outset, from insisting on such laws and observances as might impose too severe a strain on the seeker's newly awakened faith, and endeavor to nurse him, patiently, tactfully, and yet determinedly, into full maturity, and aid him to proclaim his unqualified acceptance of whatever has been ordained by Bahá'u'lláh. Let him, as soon as that stage has been attained, introduce him to the body of his fellow-believers, and seek, through constant fellowship and active participation in the local activities of his community, to enable him to contribute his share to the enrichment of its life, the furtherance of its tasks, the consolidations of its interests, and the coordination of its activities with those of its sister communities. Let him not be content until he has infused into his spiritual child so deep a longing as to impel him to arise independently, in his turn, and devote his energies to the quickening of other souls, and the upholding of the laws and principles laid down by his newly adopted Faith."

Ok. If you're like me, and I know you're not, dear Reader, you probably skipped over most of that and just scrolled down to here.

To make it comprehensible to one as obtuse as myself, I decided to make a bit of an outline, just to see if it made any more sense.

  1. Resolve to arise and teach
  2. Consider every avenue of approach
  3. Survey possibilities in own life
  4. Proced intelligently and systematically
  5. Devise methods to open ways to more contacts
  6. Bear in mind dignity, etc...
  7. Consider degree of hearer's receptivity
  8. Remember example of 'Abdu'l-Baha
  9. Refrain, at beginning, from insisting on laws that may be too much
  10. Try to nurse the person into full maturity
  11. Help him declare
  12. Introduce him to body of fellow-believers
  13. Enable them to contribute their share to the growth of the Faith
  14. Do not be content until individual arises independently
Fourteen steps, some of which occur concurrently, but still. Fourteen steps.

It seems to me that the first four steps are all prepartion. Obviously the first step is to be committed to actually getting up and teaching. If you don't resolve to do it, you'll never actually get off your butt and do it. But even then, you can be determined, but not look at your own reality, your daily life. Steps two, three and four are all about looking at your own life and working within that context. I may want to teach the Faith amongst the Romany people, but there isn't a Romany population here in my home town. Kinda sucks, doesn't it?

No. All our teaching efforts have to be centered around our own circumstances. That is why there is no "correct way" to do all this. Each of us is unique and our circumstances are, too. What works for me may not be applicable to anyone else.

But the outline is still the same.

Sep one (through four) - consider your own life.

Once you have done that, you may have a list that looks something like this: When I am writing, I like to write in coffee shops, so I should find one in which people are more open to talking to others. I love the arts, and am an artist, so I can join an art society. When I put my work in a gallery, I can have an open house in order to meet more people who like what I do.

This is, of course, just a beginning. But you see how each idea connects to my own life?

In step five, we go beyond our ordinary life with work and stuff, and see if we can reach a bit further. I love to cook, and I enjoy people, so volunteering at a soup kitchen may be an idea. I live near a military base, so perhaps I can do some work with the Military Family Resource Centre. I have a passion for religion and interfaith work, so joining an interfaith society may be right up my alley.

This is where I am now beginning to see where my own interests can move me into circles that have similar ideas towhat we see within the Faith.

In step 6, we turn our attention inward a bit. We remember that we should proceed with dignity, as we are representing the Faith to numerous people at this point. The way we dress, the words we say, how we say them, our every action: people are watching. And if we act in a bozoid way, this actually reflects poorly upon the Faith, not just on ourselves.

I remember a situation years ago in which I was selling my artwork at a show, and I had to camp out there for nearly two months. As there were a number of us living on the site, we had something of a small community feel. During that time, although I was not aware of it, a number of these friends began to comment amongst themselves that they noticed I never swore or drank alcohol. They noticed that I always tried to be clean, which can be tricky when you're camping in a muddy field. In short, they noticed many things about me that I wasn't even aware of demonstrating. I'm sure there were many poor qualities they noticed, too, but were just too polite to mention. But as they learned that I was a Baha'i, my previous behaviour worked in my favour. Many were interested in hearing about the Faith, and some even declared. (How cool is that?)

So we always need to be aware of our behaviour and act with dignity, especially when we think nobody is watching.

This brings us up to step 7, in which we finally get to meet the person we are hoping to teach. We have already stepped up to the plate by steeling our resolve. We have gone out and mingled with many individuals, and made sure to be on our best behaviour, but now we narrow it down. Now we are actually dealing with a real person, and not just a crowd.

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